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House churns through measures designed to put heat on GOP

Rules package, financial services spending bill pass chamber

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries arrives to hold the Democrats’ weekly press conference in the Capitol on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries arrives to hold the Democrats’ weekly press conference in the Capitol on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats continued to flex their majority muscles Wednesday, pushing through measures designed to put some heat on their Republican colleagues amid the partial government shutdown and on perennial policy priorities like health care.

First, the House passed 235-192 a resolution to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the 2010 health care law, although Democrats already filed a motion last week to do just that.

But Democrats characterized the vote as a signal of whether Republicans actually support protecting pre-existing conditions, as they asserted throughout the 2018 midterm campaign season.

Three Republicans voted for the measure with no Democratic defections.

The resolution would allow lawyers for the House to join a coalition of Democratic state attorneys general in defending the health care law in a lawsuit brought by Texas and other conservative state officials.

The Democrats are essentially repeating action they took last week in an effort to emphasize their support of the pre-existing condition protections in the 2010 law. Wednesday’s vote on Title III of the resolution, the House Democrats’ rules package for this Congress, follows votes last week to approve the other parts of the rules package. The third section of the rules package is similar to another resolution by freshman Democrat Colin Allred of Texas.

Another part of the resolution, which the chamber adopted last week, authorized the House general counsel to file to become a party in the case. The vote Wednesday on the third section, which includes additional justification for why the chamber should intervene and background on the case, offered Democrats another chance to put Republicans on record voting against the popular protections for pre-existing conditions. The Trump administration declined to defend those protections.

A federal judge ruled in favor of the conservative states last month, saying the law should fall after Republicans acted in 2017 to end the penalty for not having insurance coverage. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed an appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week.

Lawyers for the House filed a motion to intervene in the case last week. Since then, the Justice Department asked the 5th Circuit to stay the proceedings until the agency is funded.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told reporters Tuesday that the vote was an opportunity for Republicans who say they support the health care law’s protections for pre-existing conditions to demonstrate that.

“They ought to vote for Title III so they can defend what they say they are for,” the Maryland Democrat said.

GOP reaction

But Republicans argued the vote was repetitive and “meaningless.”

The minority party has also tried to show that it back protections for pre-existing conditions. Rep. Brett Guthrie pointed to a motion Republicans filed last week that required key committees to file legislation to protect such coverage.

“They’re obviously going to try to make us take votes,” the Kentucky Republican said of the Democrats, “but we’re for it, and we should have handled that better during the election time.” 

Still, some moderate Republicans joined Democrats in backing the resolution Wednesday, perhaps in a nod to the political pressures around protections for pre-existing conditions. House Democrats made the protections an issue in last year’s midterms that saw them pick up a net of at least 40 seats.

New York GOP Rep. Tom Reed, who voted with Democrats to approve the rules package last week, voted in favor of intervening in the lawsuit. Reed, a co-chairman of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, said he supported the package because it included changes the group had pushed for to make it easier for bipartisan bills to come to the House floor. He was joined by another New York Republican, John Katko, and Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick.

Piecemeal approach

A short while later, the House voted 240-188 to pass a standalone $23.7 billion fiscal 2019 Financial Services spending bill, less than a week after the Democrat-controlled chamber passed the measure as part of a six-bill spending package that has not been taken up by the GOP-controlled Senate.

Eight Republicans voted with Democrats to pass the Financial Services appropriations bill to fund the Treasury Department, IRS and other agencies through the end of fiscal 2019.

Those Republicans were: Fitzpatrick, Katko, and Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, Will Hurd of Texas, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Elise Stefanik of New York, Fred Upton of Michigan and Greg Walden of Oregon.

The House action Wednesday was designed to underscore that agencies funded by the Financial Services bill, including the IRS, are affected by the partial government shutdown that began Dec. 22. The vote count was little changed from the 241-190 vote on Jan. 3 for the six-bill package.

Mary Ellen McIntire and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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